I’m by no means a pro, or a perfect 50s housewife as shown above. That’s a joke; look at the burnt cookies. The above photo was the outcome of saying yes to a makeup artist friend who needed more photos in her portfolio. I have never identified with Martha Stewart either. But I have cooked and planned a holiday dinner party for 16 people for roughly 13 years. I’ve made all the mistakes and had my Mom on speed dial for the first seven years. I hope the following mistakes are ones you can avoid and it will help you enjoy your holiday party a bit more. Cheers!
1) You’re in the kitchen all night
This is a big bummer for you and the guests. You want to see them for god’s sake. You invited them! They want to catch up with you. Maybe they’ll come in and hang out in the kitchen while you’re elbow deep in stuffing, but that’s not relaxing for you and you can’t give them your full attention. It’s actually more stressful for you and it slows down the cooking. Here’s how you can avoid this. Start your preparations two days ahead. I know. It sounds like that will suck. It’s worth it though. Do your shopping three days in advance if can swing it. If not, squeeze it in two mornings before the party. Right after you put the groceries away, set the table. I know that might sound unnecessary, but what I’ve learned is that these little tasks add up and all of sudden you’re scrambling with napkins five minutes before people arrive. This gives you the time to be creative with your table decor and find out if you are missing anything as well. Then, on to cooking. Cook as many dishes as you can in advance. For the holidays there are a lot casseroles and all of those can be pre-made and refrigerated (mashed potatoes included). If you have time for more, go ahead and prep the other dishes. Do all the chopping and get it out of the way.
2) Your mashed potatoes look like gel
This happens when you are doing too many things at once and accidentally overcook the potatoes. When you started mashing or whipping these guys, they get gelatinous. Ick. This can also be caused by trying to puree them. Don’t use an immersion blender on them. Just hand mash. Keep your eye on them while they’re cooking and do them the day before so your attention is not split between them and the turkey.
3) A dry turkey
Oh the bird! I’m vegetarian and I still wrestle, probe, and caress a turkey every year. The turkey is kind of an art, so it may take a couple years, or you may get lucky. The key is watch that bird’s temperature and not rely solely on an approximated cook time length. Every bird is very different. One 20 pound turkey is different from the next 20 pounder. Take it out of the oven when it’s 160 degrees in the breast. It will come up to 170 degrees while you’re letting it rest, covered with foil for 30 minutes. That’s perfect. It won’t by dry. As for prep, I always slather the skin in butter and cook it uncovered until it’s brown, then cover it in foil so the skin doesn’t burn. Browning the skin will hold the juice in.
4)Not enough booze
It’s a buzz kill and a sign that your party is over if you run out of alcohol, so don’t let it happen. Don’t worry about buying too much. Whatever isn’t used will surely be imbibed at a later date.
5) Wild kids
Have a couple crafts, or a bunch of toys in a separate room, away from the cocktail area if you can. If it is a family party, then of course they will run in and out, but you don’t need them jumping all around you while you are catching up with friends over cocktails. Some of your guests may not have kids and may not appreciate wild kids doing circles around their legs.
6) A dead table
Go ahead and make place cards, then think carefully about where you place your guests. You may never have done this and it may feel awkward to you at the start, but I swear by this. People are what make or break a party. Good food and ambiance are just dressing. Your guests are the main ingredients, so take care of them. Seat two people who have something in common next to each other, but don’t put all the extroverts on one end of the table and all the introverts on the other end. That is an unbalanced table and one end will be very quiet. Spread the sexes and the introverts throughout the table and you’ll have a great party.
7) You never eat
If you follow the tips in #1, you should be able to avoid this. Even if you have all the work and cooking done though, you may just be a person who is so engaged in their guests and the conversation that you end up just picking at your dinner. Force yourself to eat a normal portion. You need the food to one, soak up the alcohol, and two, get the energy to make it through the party and clean up.
8) Eating too late
The timing of dinner is largely dependent on the main course, a bird perhaps. So it may have to be flexible. But don’t start cocktail hour so early that everyone is wasted by dinner time, or let the food dry out in the oven while you socialize. Take charge of the schedule and don’t feel bad to move everyone to the dining room table even if they are having what looks to be a marvelous time. Don’t worry about interrupting their conversations and sit around waiting twenty minutes for the perfect time. No, the perfect time is when the food is ready and hot. Another way to work with the variable timing of reheating casseroles and settling turkeys is to pre-plate a salad and have everyone start on that. This gets the dinner process started and allows you to bring the food out of the oven piping hot. You don’t want the food sitting out getting cold while people are eating salad.
9) Bad lighting
Bad lighting= bad mood. Never use just overhead lights alone. If you have to use them, dim them if you can and turn on lamps. Light tons of candles. Good lighting makes people feel more relaxed and more festive. It makes your home look better and you look better. You don’t want your guests feeling like they’re under a spotlight or at a Denny’s. Another note on ambiance, if you can spring for them, fresh flowers always dress up your party and make it beautiful.
10) No music
Dead air feels weird at a party. There are bound to be lulls in conversation and when there is, people should hear music. Not blaring music, but music at a moderate level. Dead air makes them feel like they’re back in the office, in a meeting. If the crowd is appropriate and they’re ready for it, you can liven up the party easily by turning the volume up a bit. Don’t make a drastic jump because it will jolt them, but gradually turning it up a bit will trick them into a different state.
Good luck and happy party planning!
- How to Host a Dinner Party & Host a Dinner Party (potterybarn.com)
- Winner, Winner-Turkey Dinner! (healthunlimitedbiz.wordpress.com)